Ex-AFP, PNP men in Congress challenge Aquino: Answer hard questions now
MANILA, Philippines–Former military and police officers in Congress have challenged President Aquino to “step up” and take full responsibility for the botched Special Action Force (SAF) operation in Mamasapano on Jan. 25 that ended in the massacre of 44 commandos.
Representatives Ashley Acedillo and Gary Alejano of Magdalo, Leopoldo Bataoil of Pangasinan province, Romeo Acop of Antipolo and Samuel Pagdilao Jr. of ACT-CIS said the President must answer three burning questions surrounding the SAF raid against Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” and his deputy Basit Usman:
— When did he first know about the deadly clash between the SAF troopers and the Moro rebels?
— What did he do when he found out about the operation?
— What happened after he gave orders to the police and military to deal with the unfolding SAF rout?
“There are no threats of a coup in the office. We just need to answer the public’s questions,” said Acop who noted that the group does not support calls for the President to step down “because we do not want the alternative which might be more dangerous.”
“Declaring I am responsible is not enough. We want answers,” said Acedillo, who noted the conflicting and misleading statements of police and military officials on the tragedy.
The group was reacting to rife speculation that the President knew about the SAF mission jump-off from resigned PNP Director General Alan Purisima in the early hours of Jan. 25; that Aquino broke the news to the military generals who flew with him to Zamboanga City that morning; and that Aquino was swayed from rescuing the SAF troops to save the peace pact with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Show decisive leadership
A joint statement read by Pagdilao said: “We call on the President to STEP UP and show decisive leadership befitting the father of one nation and as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police by directing them to unite against a common enemy. Bickering at this time is counterproductive.”
The group said they were making the appeal in the face of the anger and anxiety of police, soldiers, their relatives and the public over the failure to answer questions that led to the slaughter of the commandos in Maguindanao province as they battled forces of the MILF and its breakaway faction, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) after reportedly killing Marwan.
“There have been disturbing allegations of a cover-up yet the government has done so little to quell these allegations. The President, as Commander in Chief, must assume responsibility over the operations regardless of the outcome,” it said.
“Assuming responsibility is not equivalent to admission of guilt. It is an assurance that as the Commander in Chief, he will support and not abandon his troops during adversities or failures as much as he takes the credit in times of success,” the group added.
Palace: Truth must be known
During the regular news briefing in Malacañang, Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. could not say when Aquino would finally tell the public when he was informed that the SAF troopers had killed Marwan; when the commandos were battling the MILF fighters and other armed groups; who relayed the information to him; and what instructions he gave afterward.
“There is no statement that he doesn’t want to talk anymore or that he’s closing the door (on the issue). There is still the belief in the principle that the whole truth must be known,” Coloma said.
But when the President would further shed light on his involvement in the Mamasapano operation and whether he would cooperate in the Philippine National Police board of inquiry’s investigation, Coloma said Aquino would “decide at the appropriate time.”
Coloma said the Palace had nothing to do with the House of Representative’s decision to halt its own inquiry into the Mamasapano operation.
In a meeting with SAF troopers earlier, the President said he had been told “early in the morning” that Marwan had been killed in the operation.
He was in Zamboanga City to check on victims of the previous day’s explosion near a bus terminal. He was joined by Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, who both later told senators that they did not inform the President about the Mamasapano encounter.
The admission gave rise to speculations that Aquino was monitoring the situation through Purisima, who was allegedly running the operation even though he was suspended for corruption issues by the Ombudsman in December.
The five representatives said the search for justice should not end with the capture of Usman, but continue with the hunt for Ameril Umra Kato, the BIFF founder responsible for atrocities perpetrated in various Mindanao communities after the failure of the memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain in 2008.
Pagdilao said that if PNP officials were made to account for the Al Barka incident in Basilan province, the last clash between the MILF and government before Mamasapano in which 19 soldiers were killed, this process of accountability should also be enforced in the overkill of SAF troops.
The group has come out to urge the President to play more decisively his role as Commander in Chief by ending the festering feud between the AFP and PNP.
Fanning coup rumors
Acop said some sectors were taking advantage of the PNP’s low morale and the rift between the military and police to fan rumors of a mutiny.
Acop also suggested that the President consider imposing martial law in some parts of Mindanao to quell the worsening war between the MILF and BIFF.
Pagdilao said that martial law should not be an option just yet for the entire country as “we are not yet in an irreversible situation.”
Acedillo said, “The last thing we need is an unclear policy at the top.”–With a report from Christian V. Esguerra
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